Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that can cause brain cell death, resulting in dementia which can lead to problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. Though Alzheimer’s effects mostly elderly people, it is not a normal part of aging. Up to 5% of people diagnosed with the disease have early onset, which starts when a person is only in their 40’s and 50’s. Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s include bouts of forgetfulness or confusion that usually worsens over time. The rate of which the disease worsens varies from person to person.
The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still mostly unknown, though through decades of research it has been identified that the buildup of toxic proteins in the brain called beta amyloids and tau can cause brain cell death which leads to Alzheimer’s. How these proteins accumulate is still unclear.
Nutrition and certain types of foods have been studied for a link to Alzheimer’s disease. These studies have identified that just as there are foods that boost memory, there are foods that can destroy it. Foods that have been negatively linked to Alzheimer’s include: mercury-contaminated foods like some fish and seafoods, sugars like high-fructose syrup, corn syrup, white sugar; foods containing saturated and trans fats, fried foods, most vegetable oils, complex carbohydrates like white refined flour, white bread and white pasta products, white refined rice, cakes, pastries, processed cheese, all processed meats, bacon, all highly processed foods (any processed foods with artificial ingredients or ingredients not found in the kitchen at home), preservatives, sulphites, nitrates, beer and microwave popcorn; have all been linked to increasing a person’s risk of developing the disease.
Just as there are many foods that can cause Alzheimer’s, there are also many delicious foods that have been found to boost memory and improve cognitive function. Studies have found that maintaining a well-balanced diet of fresh whole-foods like the Mediterranean Diet can prevent and slow down the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Foods that have been identified as especially beneficial in preventing Alzheimer’s and improving memory include foods high in Omega-3, flavonoids, antioxidants, vitamin E, magnesium, vitamin B12 and folate.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to increase the levels of the protein LR11 which is known to destroy the beta amyloids which cause brain cell death. Decades of research and several studies have now shown that diets high in omega-3 can reduce the progression of Alzheimer’s and could be used as a preventative method in developing the disease. Foods high in omega-3 include: flaxseed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, walnuts, yogurt, eggs and low-mercury fish like wild salmon, rainbow trout, mackerel, sardines, clams and crab.
Diets high in flavonoids have been found to reduce amyloid-beta production in the brain, which in-turn reduces the amyloid plaque that builds up and eventually destroys the brains cells. Foods high in flavonoids include fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables such as: almonds, quinoa, cocoa, parsley, basil, mint, dill, thyme, lettuce, spinach, kale, cranberries, lemon, oranges, grapefruits, apples. blueberries, bananas, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, red grapes, cantaloupe, watermelon, oranges, plums, tomatoes, beets, carrots, onion, garlic, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, celery, brussels sprouts, asparagus and celery.
Antioxidants help protect cells and DNA against damage caused by oxidants or free radicals. Free radicals can cause serious damage to the body and contribute to aging and the development of diseases like Alzheimer’s. Foods high in antioxidants include: wild blueberries, gogi berries, cranberries, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, sweet cherry, black plum, red and black grapes, artichokes, red kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, cocoa powder, cilantro and dark leafy greens.
In a study published in 2014 through the Journal of the American Medical Association, it was concluded that vitamin E slowed the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Since vitamin E supplements can negatively interact with some medications, it is advised vitamin e be consumed through food sources. Food sources rich in vitamin E include: sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, wheat germ, spinach, pine nuts, dark leafy greens, eggs, sardines, avocados, broccoli, kale and asparagus.
Magnesium has been reported to lower the risk of cognitive decline in a couple different studies, suggesting that maintaining healthy magnesium levels may lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Foods high in magnesium include: pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, cashews, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, oats, salmon, quinoa, spinach, mackerel, yogurt, black beans, navy beans and all other types of legumes.
Through a study published in Neurology, researchers in Scandinavia analyzed blood samples of a few hundred individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and found that there were consistently low levels of vitamin B12 and folate. It is suggested that maintaining a diet with healthy levels of B12 may prevent the chances of Alzheimer’s developing. Foods high in vitamin B12 include: clams, oysters, mackerel, crab, sardines, trout, salmon, scallops, cottage cheese, milk, yogurt and eggs.
Eating fresh folate-rich foods on a daily basis may lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s according to several studies. Folic acid may help protect the brain by allowing nerve cells to repair DNA damage. Folic acid supplements and folate-fortified foods have not shown the same results though. Fresh folate-rich foods include: leafy greens, vegetables and legumes such as: lentils, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, beets, romaine lettuce, bok choy, cauliflower, parsley, garbanzo beans, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, green beans, papaya, brussels sprouts, cabbage, green peas, celery, squash, tomatoes and strawberries.
In recent studies, maple syrup was found to protect the brain cells against damage caused by proteins linked to the degenerative disease. At the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, a group of international scientists shared research that showed maple syrup prevented the tangling of beta amyloid proteins and protected brain cells.
Mercury has been found to cause the same brain nerve damage as the beta amyloids proteins. Research conducted by the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine in collaboration with the University of Kentucky found that mercury poisoning caused brain damage resulting in Alzheimer’s. Mercury is most commonly introduced into the body through mercury fillings, but can also be introduced through vaccines, seafood and pollution from coal-burning power plants.
Your best fight against Alzheimers disease is by avoiding industrial pollutants, highly processed foods and artificial ingredients and through maintaining a well-balanced whole food meal plan. Plenty of fresh air and regular mental stimulation are also suggested as all healthy ways to exercise, protect and nurture a healthy brain and a strong mind.
Written by: J. Marshall
• Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center / Food, Eating and Alzheimer’s: https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-food-eating.asp
• Alzheimer’s Association / Adopt a Healthy Diet: http://www.alz.org/brain-health/adopt_healthy_diet.asp
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• Science-Based Medicine / Vitamin E for Alzheimer’s: https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/vitamin-e-for-alzheimers/